Libraries and my life

Dalbir Kaur Madan

“The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance” – Libba Bray

Library and books are my first love. Since the time I remember, books transported me to other worlds and each time I came back, my thinking was either challenged or confirmed or I was left wanting more…. My journey at One Up library, bookstudio and learning lab, started as a parent raising two curious children who loved learning. My children’s birth-city Amritsar, is a historical city, where education is still driven by traditional methodology and a myopic view towards reading.

Raising two young readers in 2011, aged 12 and 15, my quest was to create a safe space with books and open a learning environment for readers to share, discuss, criticize and learn from books and have conversations with enabling adults who love books.

I personally feel and believe that even though school teaches every child to read and design their literate life, it is through reading that we find ourselves and become more human. I believe that libraries are ateliers of learning and librarians perform the role of an atelierista in developing each child’s reading process. Libraries and reading have the power to develop and re-design the learning journey of each child.

Schools should be measured by the content and programs they run in their libraries. Our role as parents and educators is to help every child develop the skills of critical reading and thinking.

Even though ideas and dreams are powerful and beautiful, reality is hard and challenging. When I started One Up Library and Bookstore in 2011 it opened a Pandora’s box of questions, confusions and challenges for me as a reader and learner.

The beauty is that today the library and my readers have helped me to embrace these confusions, questions and challenges as a part of my learning to be a curator of reading lives.

Every moment we face challenges. Parents and children enter the library with pre-conceived notions about reading – reading for pleasure, for purpose, for academic outcomes, for English language proficiency, for attention, for behaviour, for self-engagement, for reflection, for a safe place to park your kid for a few hours and so on…. Every time I am surprised that the library fulfils each outcome, embraces each learner and provides an opportunity for each reader to define and find himself/herself.

The complexity of words, opinions, prejudices about reading makes the journey more driven and purposeful. As with each child who falls in love with reading, you find ten proclaiming that they don’t read. You see successful people talking about being successful without ever being touched by the power of reading and discovering. The journey beautiful continues and propels you each day to create magic, to infuse, inspire, accept and appreciate the reader within each learner.

In the 21st century, where knowledge is the new currency, libraries and reading will help learners to design their own learning pace. Reading is complex, unique, personalized, driven by the reader and ever changing text. It needs organized visible support to nurture and nourish reading lives through access, choice, engagement, time, relationships and growth mindset to support the reading development. Hence, print efficacy does not translate to love for books and reading.

Why do we read? Does the school make you a reader? Does reading mean the ability to master academic content? These questions challenge me to dig deeper within my own craft.

My library, book studio and learning lab is driven by the philosophy that every child is a reader. It is rightly said that if you listen to the reader, the reader guides and directs you in the right direction.

In last eight years I have visited hundreds of school libraries in Delhi, Mumbai, Punjab, and other parts of the world to understand the complexity and simplicity of a school library and its users.

How do libraries communicate with our children? What are the programs or events that nurture our children’s reading lives? How is the reading life of every child curated? Does reading till a certain age turn you into a reader? What is the balancing role that a parent and school performs to nurture the reader in a child?

My journey as a reading specialist every day confirms my thinking that we require self-learners motivated and engaged about learning at every step of their lives. My training at Harvard – Graduate School of Education and Lesley University also point to the fact that our learning and planning begins from what we hear from our readers. We don’t teach books. We listen to our readers and our endeavour is to provide books, access, choice, skills, inspiration and nourishment to every reader we come in contact with.

With this library, the idea is to provide children and the community beyond home and school to raise readers and thinkers who responsibly author their reading lives. Our events, in the form of read-alouds, family events, karaoke evenings, scavenger library hunts, parent literacy talks, lapsit-reading events are all platforms to nurture, model and curate a reader’s life right from when they are six months old.

For us, the library is a culture where children are raised apart from schools and homes in communities that nurture the reader within each of them. Conversations with readers and their families, book matching, book shopping and book stacking for individual readers provide opportunities for access, choice and independent conferencing to develop a reading life beyond instruction.

Re-inventing library spaces as collaborative spaces for seeking knowledge, balancing traditional resources with digital resources and learning spaces for self-learning and engagement is the need of the hour. Libraries teach people and foster love for learning. It is surprising to see how this space has been humiliated, sidelined and given step-motherly treatment.

Today’s learning challenges with diverse needs and tools provide ample opportunities to school libraries to re-invent themselves as self-paced learning zones. Our quest is to showcase our model and ensure that every school library and every parent provides a community space to all learners to maximize their potential. Libraries are open spaces waiting to offer their members an opportunity to be informed, question prejudices, find and seek answers. Our interaction today forces us to reflect and design spaces that invite learners to own and author their reading lives. It is my hope that we will focus on the ways that literacy creates change and the ways in which our students can raise their voices to impact their communities.

Today, in education, we need spaces beyond schools that promote curiosity, collaboration, conversations, community, critical reading, critical thinking that allow a child to find and explore his or her natural aptitude and learning curve.

Reading is the foundation for learning and understanding. Education can foster change not by a system alone but by inspiration and motivation that stems from an individual. If children are groomed to be readers and thinkers, the rest of the journey will follow.

After nearly nine years of working in this space, I see myself not only opening more centers but changing, expanding and re-inventing the library in every school and making them open, collaborative, learning spaces used by students for self-engagement, self-learning. Libraries will become spaces where learning is not restricted by the curriculum.

Libraries are spaces to nurture dreamers, thinkers and problem-solvers for the 21st century.

The author is a Reading and Library Specialist and works with schools, parents and children, curating reading programs and books to nurture critical reading and thinking. She can be reached at and through the website

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